Jon & Emma
Photography by Meredith Jenks
Interviewed at their apartment in Chinatown, New York. Jonathan is a digital designer known as JOB, and his other half Emma writes children's books. Both have been working on Emma's new start-up, [reads].
TWP: How did you guys meet?
JONATHAN: Haha, I always have to answer this one. A while back I got invited to a party from from a friend of a friend. When I arrived at the party the guy who had texted me wasn’t there, and apparently had gone out of town. It was a potluck and Emma came up to me and started talking to me as I was eating. Since we both lived in Greenpoint at the time, we would catch up for dinner at Alameda every couple of weeks or just hang out in the neighborhood.
EMMA: When we met we were both seeing other people. I was about to move to Paris for the summer right after I met Jonathan. When I came back, my friend Santos and I had come to see his “Walking Pheonix” Exhibit at XXIX and I remember Jonathan had just started dating someone at the time.
JONATHAN: When we got together, we'd always just been friends and so I was like, "Oh no, I hope it's not going to ruin a friendship," but then it worked out the way it was meant to. We had decided that we weren't going to date each other and we weren't going to go on a first date unless there was something more. We even said, "We're not going to go on a first date unless we are entering into this to be together for a long time." In a way our first date was like entering into the beginning of something not unknown, but more known.
EMMA: I remember on Jonathan came upstate with us for Thanksgiving, my boyfriend and I had just broken up and my roommate Robin Jones was like, "What about Jonathan?" I was like, "No, he is such good friend" She was like, "But there's ... I feel some vibes." I’ve genuinely seen the way that it can ruin good friendships and was like "No. We have the best time together and I would hate to ruin that." Jonathan and I had such a solid friendship, we had talked about things that I hadn't really shared with anyone else. He’s very loyal in that way and a really good listener which is why he’s so great at making serious and heavy things lighthearted.
JONATHAN: I think then there's the thing of, you think you know someone really well as friends and then when you enter into an intimate relationship, you get to know them all over again in a different way.
EMMA: After our first kiss, I remember thinking "Okay, shoot, we're not going to be friends anymore, we ruined a good friendship and now it will be awkward." Then we sat down at Alameda to talk about it and it wasn't like that at all, he said something like "I’ve really care about you and have liked you since we first met," It was unexpected timing and not what I had imagined, but it was perfect. Alameda was our spot throughout our friendship so it was appropriate to have been the start of us dating.
We had decided that we weren't going to date each other and we weren't going to go on a first date unless there was something more.
EMMA: Jonathan is very patient, I'm horribly impatient and can get pretty emotional sometimes and Jon will say super calmly, "Okay, cool, let's talk about it." I can be quick to go crazy, and he's not, which is a good balance.
JONATHAN: I love this about Emma and I have thought to myself and said to other people early on especially, "Why does this person get tired so often..." Like she would be passing out at very early hours in the day and I think I've kind of came to the conclusion, I could be still totally wrong about this, but Emma absorbs everything, so she's fully present in a situation whereas most people would save a little bit of energy here and there. Most people would be like, "Oh, I need to make sure that I have some time to do this for myself." Emma is just all in all the time, she's present, she's talking to them, she's listening intensely, she's taking on their energy and it absorbing all. I think that makes Emma more worn out than a normal person because they're kind of always deflecting.
JONATHAN: I think there's a parallel between working and our relationship a little bit because Emma's also so giving, and understanding, and patient. She's patient in a different way than I am - we're patient on different levels. Emma will be patient to point and then she gets to a new point in which she's like, "I don't know what to do in this situation anymore because this is not what I want." The parallel to our working relationship and our relationship is that I will say, "You need to tell me what you want and I'll make it for you." It's the same thing with our apartment where Emma needs to say, "I want a shelf here. I feel like we need a table here," Then I can say, "Okay, great, I can now orchestrate that." That's what we went through with [reads] where I started to do some work and she'd respond, "Oh, this is really good." Then it kind of went down a path where she didn't know how to communicate what she wanted and I was like, "You just need to tell me what you want." We've grown to a place where Emma is now forthcoming about, "This is what I want." Then there's the expectations that can be met, and it's 100% clear.
EMMA: We've gotten to know each other's strengths. I'm not awesome at saying what I want most of the time, it’s always been hard for me. I’ve learned throughout dating Jonathan that to live and work together successfully relies on really clear communication and constantly checking in with each other making sure we are in sync. He'll say, "You have to tell me what you need because I can't read your mind, I don't know what you’re thinking." That's helpful across the board. I’m a teacher by trade so for Jonathan to see me go from working with kids all of the time to creating a startup, he's watching me learn new things and seeing all the behind the scenes freakouts and wins. Jonathan has been my biggest champion. [reads] as a business is like a new baby, it’s small and it's been evolving but it’s also terrifying to start something new and wonder if it’s a good idea. Over the past two years I haven't known whether I would be writing kid's books full-time or opening a bookstore or doing, now what [reads] is. We're building an online subscription based bookstore, where we as [reads] curate two books a month and send them to our users. I think my goal for [reads] is to create community and conversations around books. I would never have been confident enough to start my own business if it wasn't for Jonathan being there because when I come home and I'm freaking out and having a panic attack like, "What the hell am I doing? Is this the right?" Jonathan's just like, "Yes, it's the right thing," and we'll talk and laugh about the day. He calms me down.
He'll say, "You have to tell me what you need because I can't read your mind, I don't know what you’re thinking." That's helpful across the board.
EMMA: Being together is a team effort. Sometimes we argue about the smallest non significant things, and feel like we are going to kill each other on things like making a table, but Jonathan is good at looping back in and reminding me what is really important and what stuff we can let go.
JONATHAN: I was like "We can't have this table in here." We cut it up and I decided "If we want to reuse the table in the future we can assemble it and we just turn it into shelves for now." We have been slowly optimizing our place since we've been moved in.
EMMA: Living together has been really fun. We basically just laugh at each other’s weird habits and idiosyncrasies. One of my favorite moments was when we were moving his mattress. Jonathan wanted to squish it into the car and I wanted the mattress to go on top of the car.
JONATHAN: It's funny because we both fight for different things in the apartment. There was this one little plant that came in this awesome little pot, I was like, this is easy, "We should definitely keep this, why are you trying to get rid of this?"
EMMA: It was an old plant of mine that I was like, "I don't want this plant."
JONATHAN: There was huge contention about all of these other things like which couch are we keeping or which chair are keeping.
EMMA: Downsizing two people's full lives into one small apartment.
JONATHAN: Emma was like, "I don't want that plant, don't take it." It was tiny so I put the plant in the car anyway. I had taken that and a jar of change she was just going to leave behind, like a jar of foreign coins, both under the radar. Then when we were coming up the stairs I was carrying a bunch of stuff and I go up five flights of stairs and the plant just smashed right outside our door. Emma laughed and says "New beginnings."
EMMA: I think we've both lived in New York and had those roommates that are like, "No guests. No people." It's just so nice to be with someone that says, "We're happy to have people on stay over" or "Stay on the couch" that's been really fun and easygoing.
JONATHAN: I love having people over.
EMMA: We had such different schedules when we weren't living together that during the week we didn't really see each other because I was leaving the house super early and Jonathan was working at his office until like three in the morning. Now we can wake up and make breakfast together or make dinner together. That's one of our favorite things to do together is to cook. Well, Jonathan cooks and I'll just be there for moral support.
Creativity and work
JONATHAN: Both of us are each working through periods of professional growth. It's fun to get to a point in your life where you're not working through the same things as you were when you're a student, the questions are different. Inspiration is so different to me than it used to be. Inspiration to me a long time ago was flipping through magazines or books. Then in more recent years, looking at websites, and apps. Now, I've started to find inspiration in other sources. I'm not looking at design stuff as a designer, I'm looking at design stuff as myself, as a person. It's less looking at details of things and being like, "Oh, I'm going to go to be inspired." It's more like, "I'm going to read this or go to this talk," I'm thinking of things and then seeing how that would transform into greater things I want to be doing in the world. I'm open to all sorts of brain activity whether we're going to a talk or the MoMA or reading a book about something not explicitly related to design, it's unlocking some kind of intellectual understanding. I want to learn about people who are not designers and how they do things in the world. I like to find out how people are growing their businesses, whatever that business is.
EMMA: I like having conversations with Jonathan and finding a life balance. I like that we're in New York together and it's inspiring being part of a network of such creative people. You have to have support, it's a good feeling having people around you that are all saying, "Go, go, go. You can do it. We support you." My life in that way was very stagnant before I met Jonathan. He's been the one that's been like, "Do the children's book, I'll help you. Do [reads], I'll help you." That's been really nice for me because I feel like my career has been very isolated for a long time teaching or writing. Moving into a new phase for me happened when I met Jonathan. When you move into a new phase your whole community gets larger and then the ideas and things that can happen are much bigger, I think, which has been really fun.
JONATHAN: Last night, Emma and I were in bed and I think she always knows, even if it's completely dark, if I can't sleep or something is on my mind. When I finally admit that I am thinking about something and tell her she always has the best response or advice and I think - why didn't I just talk to her about this earlier.
EMMA: Doing your best work is a hard thing. I get it, I work with kids and it's really hard when I'm not their parent, but I'm also wanting to contribute my best to these kids' lives. You want to do it your way where you're like, "This makes sense to me," but you may not have that control, in the same way that you just have to do your job sometimes. I know it's hard because you're like, "I want to invest my whole self and do it to the best, highest standard," but sometimes that's not what the client wants or needs.
EMMA: I'm definitely more touchy feely, but Jonathan's very thoughtful. I remember one of my favorite moments was when I came back, we were in the Bahamas for my visa, and I went to my interview and it got denied. I came back and I was about to burst into tears, and he had this whole little table set up with chocolates and a cute note that said, "I love you and I’m proud of you— congrats," and I just burst into tears. He was like, "We'll make it happen, we'll work it out." He’s very much like that. If I'm upset or having a bad day, he'll be there and he does little things, surprises, which I love.
JONATHAN: We help each other in a practical work sense, and also I remember Emma used to leave notes when I would wake up in the morning at her place, they would say, "I love you, I hope you have a good day." Or it would be something we were talking about, the note would kind of reference that inside joke. There's that cute side, but then there's also, if I'm working through a really heavy mental thing, Emma will say, "Oh, read this article. I was reading this thing about this kind of process that you are struggling with." Also, I don't really like to buy things for myself at all, most of my stuff either comes from a thrift store or Uniqlo. So Emma bought me jeans one time and I think it was her basically being like, "I want you to have this thing that I know you would never do for yourself."
EMMA: Jonathan’s way of expressing love is food, for sure. Some of our most romantic moments have been picnic dinners on the floor. Cooking at home, nothing crazy. Communication for me, is the most important part of a relationship. Any fight we would have comes from miscommunication or when we just haven't talked things through or when we are both trying to help each other understand things we just aren't saying the right words.
JONATHAN: One of our friends let us onto something, they have like a relationship stand-up, and our friend was like, "It's 100% changed our lives." It's a great way of communicating with each other in a neutral, scheduled, open space. Like a Monday morning meeting. It can prevent you from being a place and then a subject coming up that neither of you want to deal with right at that time. If we're walking around the East Village, Emma's frustrated about the table and I can't obviously do anything ... I can't action on the table right now, so it's like, "I can't do anything for you." We've been talking about it and we haven't really tested this out, but creating a time where we can say, "On this night, we're going to talk about all these really minutia dumb things that we have to go over." It's like, cool, it's a safe space to say, "Hey, I really want to get a new couch," or, "I really want to travel here," or, also, "Here's what our bills look like for the next few months," kind of a thing. To where it's not like us out at bar and then -
EMMA: We've had that weird moment where we're talking about something and then I'll get emotional or upset and then quickly, it turns into we're fighting about a totally different thing or I'll lump in all of the things I'm upset about. Jonathan’s like, "Well, let's talk about that, not right now." I also think that I am a homebody and I like to go to a space that's nice to come home to. Jonathan’s the same way in that he likes to build things and supports that, it's just not on the top priority. Jonathan’s like, "I'd rather just have the best night and cook dinner and eat it on the floor and not worry about it. We don't need a table, it doesn't matter." I'm like, "We need a table." It's good because it calms me down and like, "We don't need a table. We're fine. We have enough." I think when you're in the right relationship you can truly be yourself. It is part of that balance between knowing the best way to say a difficult thing to another person. When you're in the wrong relationship, it's really hard and you shut down and you can not talk about things. I think once you find that balance, you work through and say, "Okay, I know this is how you receive information and this is how I receive information," then you can be real instead of just being like, "Well, fuck, I'm not talking to you because you're impossible."
Jonathan's way of expressing love is food, for sure. Some of our most romantic moments have been picnic dinners on the floor. Cooking at home, nothing crazy.